Stillwater exhibit explores depth of human connections to water

‘We Are Water MN’ will immerse visitors in stories about relationships to the river and more.




4 minute read

Swimming in the upper St. Croix River. (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

Water is one big reason life is found on Earth. It is in every single living thing scientists have ever seen. It has unique properties that make it perfect for organic activity, for photosynthesis and much more. It can also kill and destroy, wiping out life, land, and property. It is almost invisible — tasteless, odorless, transparent — but perhaps the most powerful force of nature. Its freeze-thaw cycle and unstoppable power when combined with gravity carves the planet’s rocky crust, sculpting with both raging torrents and minuscule drops seeping into the smallest fissures.

Frozen water formed the Ice Age glaciers that are responsible for everything from the shape of the landscape to what grows where. As snow, it can create a playground for kids or bring a city to a standstill. In its liquid form, water can fall from the sky in long life-giving rains that soak the soil and fill underground aquifers, and intense storms that drop billions of gallons, creating runoff that reroutes rivers, washes out bridges and roads, carries away trees and houses. As steam, it can provide power, make a hot day unbearably humid, and create clouds that block the sun, cool the air, and are infinitely unique and beautiful.

Two hydrogen atoms linked by an oxygen atom. It covers two-thirds of Earth’s surface, the only place in the universe where such circumstances have been observed. All the water that has ever existed or will ever exist on Earth is already here. It can overcome the hardest rock and the strongest metal. It can drown and destroy, and it can construct and create. Water is worth our wonder.


This fall, a touring exhibit that explores the connections between people and water will visit Stillwater. We Are Water MN is a project of the Minnesota Humanities Center, supported by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and state funding, and hosted locally between October 12 and December 3 by ArtReach St. Croix and the Stillwater Public Library.

We Are Water MN was first launched in 2016, and has visited four or five communities around Minnesota each year since then. With its arrival in Stillwater, a place named for river behavior, the people and stories of the St. Croix Valley will bring water to life, according to Heather Rutledge of ArtReach St. Croix.

“A lot of communities that have hosted it are lake communities, and more traditional agricultural communities,” she says. “One thing we really enjoyed is adding the local stories about the river.”

The exhibit always features stories about local agriculture, which is directly affected by and significantly affects water. Where other communities have incorporated farms with annual crops and livestock, the St. Croix Valley exhibit is highlighting an apple orchard. The local connections should feel familiar.

An arts nonprofit hosting an exhibit focused on environmental issues makes perfect sense, Rutledge says. She quotes the climate change writer and advocate Bill McKibben.

“And here science can take us only so far,” McKibben wrote in 2011. “The scientists have done their job — they’ve issued every possible warning, flashed every red light. Now it’s time for the rest of us — for the economists, the psychologists, the theologians. And the artists, whose role is to help us understand what things feel like.”

That’s where something like We Are Water MN comes in. The exhibit is creative and engaging. It makes a global issue local and personal.

“It’s interactive. It gets deep in the science about water and it’s also super thoughtful about how we impact the water bodies of Minnesota,” Rutledge says.

Life is water

Great blue heron, St. Croix River (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

We Are Water MN in Stillwater features water stories from several local residents (including yours truly). Here are all the voices:

  • Astoria Jespersen – Houseboat resident
  • Emily Tweed – Pumpkin Regatta Winner 2022, local business owner
  • Fred Grieco
  • Pam Carlson – Volunteer water monitor
  • Rosie Peters – Brookside Bar & Grill, co-owner, Dakota
  • Amy Frischmon – Business owner, Taylor’s Falls Scenic Boat Tours
  • Andy Veu – Local angler
  • Kami Mendlik – Artist, St. Croix River School of Painting
  • Daniel Bruber – MnDOT, Lift Bridge Operator
  • Mark Edlund – Scientist with St. Croix Watershed Research Station
  • Paul Red Elk – NAPAC elder, herbalist
  • Greg Seitz – St. Croix 360, writer/blogger

For kids, the Stillwater Public Library’s Discovery Area has been transformed into a water exploration zone.

“Children can investigate a pretend pool containing stuffie fish and puppet animals that are found in the St. Croix River Valley; navigate boats through lift bridges on a tabletop river; identify animal tracks; purchase fishing nets and magnifiers at the play Water Discovery store; and investigate wind currents with chiffon scarves and felt rain clouds with the flight lab wind tunnel,” the library says.

The library’s hours are 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. We Are Water MN will be open October 12 through December 3,

In addition to the exhibit, several supporting events are planned in October and November:

We Are Water MN is led by the Minnesota Humanities Center in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Board of Water and Soil Resources; the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources; the Minnesota Historical Society; and the University of Minnesota Extension. We Are Water MN is funded in part with money from the Clean Water, Land, & Legacy Fund and by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Learn more:


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Stillwater exhibit explores depth of human connections to water